Watertown Public Schools is pleased to announce that Kelly Bainer, Special Education teacher at Polk Elementary School, has been named the 2020-21 District Teacher of the Year. Ms. Bainer was surprised at her house in Prospect by a car parade of students, members of the Polk Elementary Staff, and district office staff earlier today. The parade of 50+ cars, led by the Prospect Police Department, were decorated with signs, banners and balloons.
Ms. Bainer is a 2015 graduate of the University of Saint Joseph, where she earned a Master’s degree in Special Education. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders and a Minor in Psychology from Southern Connecticut State University. Ms. Bainer worked as a Teaching Assistant at Foundation School in Milford from 2013-2015 and was hired in June 2015 as a Special Education teacher at Polk Elementary School in Watertown.
Ms. Bainer’s dedication to her students is evident. She is always looking for new ways to make connections with kids. She gets to know their interests and incorporates them into lessons and activities. You can often find her eating lunch with her students either in the cafeteria or during her weekly Friday “Lunch and a Movie” offering. Kelly also started and organized “Facelift Fridays” where participating staff greet students outside at arrival with music, signs, dancing and high fives. During the COVID-19 pandemic Kelly organized a parade for the Polk Students. She visited each of her students weekly at their homes, sent every student a care package and made a volcano with a struggling student in his driveway while observing social distancing. Every single student at Polk School knows who Ms. Bainer is, regardless of whether they are one of her students. Additionally, Kelly knows just about every student in the school by name.
Kelly’s relationships with her colleagues and dedication to Polk School in general nearly matches her feelings and actions with kids. Kelly does things just to ease the load for her colleagues and to quite simply make school a positive place. Kelly does all of the school-wide bulletin boards without being asked or expected to, and they are often about recognizing students or staff. Some examples are as follows: “Be the “i” in Kind,” where Kelly collected student nominations from staff, took students’ pictures and then sent home copies to families with the certificate and “Taco ‘bout how Great our Staff is!” which is a staff shout out bulletin board. Kelly likewise started “Feel Good Friday.” Kelly seeks out information about what her colleagues are doing and then highlights them in specific and positive ways via this weekly email. Finally, Kelly always volunteers to help out her colleagues. She covers duties, provides support when someone is out sick and takes additional kids for small groups. Kelly’s day to day interactions with students and staff really help to make Polk School a safe, happy and accepting place to be. We are very fortunate to have her in Watertown.
Ms. Bainer will represent Watertown in the State of Connecticut Teacher of the Year Program for 2020-21. We wish her the best of luck in this endeavor.
We have exceptional staff in Watertown Public Schools. The Teacher of the Year Program allows us to honor the efforts of all of our classroom teachers by selecting one representative of our excellent teaching staff. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t seize this opportunity to recognize the other spectacular nominees for Teacher of the Year 2020-21:
Sarah Baker, Spanish teacher, Watertown High School
Susan Danaher, Speech & Language Pathologist at Polk School
Kate DeSantis, Kindergarten teacher at John Trumbull School
Diana DeBiase, Grade 5 teacher, Judson School
Chelsie Guerrera, Mathematics teacher, Watertown High School
Jennifer Gruettner, Grade 4 teacher, Judson School
Sharon Heady-Labansky, Literacy Coach, John Trumbull School
Nicole Lewis, Library Media Specialist, Watertown High School
Marlena McDonnell, Grade 3 teacher, Judson School
Kylee McIntosh, Special Education teacher, Judson School
Tara Schulte, Grade 5 teacher, Polk School
Kathleen Sklanka, Grade 8 Science teacher at Swift Middle School
Molly Stepka, Reading Specialist, Judson School
Jeff Turner, Director of Technology, Watertown Public Schools